An Unfriendly Workplace Is the Culprit in High Levels of Stress for Women in Male-Dominated Occupations

Previous studies have shown that women who work in male-dominated occupations in fields such as high-tech, firefighting, or natural sciences experience a great deal of workplace stress. Men in female dominated occupations such as elementary school teaching or nursing do not report similar elevated levels of stress.

CateTaylorA new study by Cate Taylor, an assistant professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Indiana, finds that the reason for the high levels of stress have little to do with the women but are mostly related to the workplace environment.

Dr. Taylor designed an experiment that exposed both men and women to the types of stressful situations that women report in male-dominated workplaces. Male subjects were placed in groups with three women who had been trained to talk about subjects thought to be feminine and to intentionally exclude the male from social interaction. Women subjects had to deal with three men who had been trained to exclude them. Control groups had men and women who were not intentionally excluded from social interaction.

Dr. Taylor measured stress by repeatedly measuring the level of cortisol in participants’ saliva. The presence of cortisol is a known indicator of physiological stress and has been linked to negative health effects.

The results showed that both men and women who had been excluded from social interaction had higher levels of stress than men and women in the control groups.

Dr. Taylor concludes that women experience more stress in male-dominated occupations due to a less hospitable workplace. In comparison, she hypothesizes that men in female-dominated workplaces are not as shunned or excluded from social interaction.

“If the workplace climate were less unfriendly, we might see more women in these male-dominated occupations, and we might see more parity in pay,” Dr. Taylor said. “That would be good for women and good for families.”

Dr. Taylor joined the faculty at Indiana University in 2012. She is a graduate of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she majored in economics. She holds a master’s degree in human development and a Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The study, “Relational by Nature? Men and Women Do Not Differ in Physiological Response to Social Stressors Faced by Token Women,” was published in the July issue of the American Journal of Sociology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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